Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Of Taxes and Serial Killers

I’ve been busy for the last few months, and unfortunately have neglected my blogs.  So I decided to re-run this post from 2005. Seems appropriate:

Tax time has come and gone for another year.

I was thinking about taxes just before I drifted off to sleep last Wednesday night. Earlier, I had been reading a book about a serial killer who prowled I-5 between Washington State and northern California, killing prostitutes along the way.

I dreamed that I was doing his taxes, and he insisted on claiming mileage. I wouldn’t let him do it because he wasn’t engaged in a legitimate business. We started arguing. That’s when I woke up.

Whew, maybe I should give up reading those kinds of stories just before bedtime.

Yes, I have given up reading those kinds of stories just before bedtime.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Horses, Hooky, and a Hurricane

Note: This is a reprint of a post I originally published in 2011. I have modified it slightly. At the time it was initially published, late Other Half and I were living in Arizona.

My late Other Half was a teenager when the Great New England Hurricane slammed into Hampden County, Massachusetts, in late September 1938. He had ditched school in favor of working at the fairgrounds in West Springfield during the Eastern States Exposition.

He was only fourteen then; however, he had worked on farms during the summer for several years. That experience helped him to get hired for a short-term, 24/7 job at the horse barn. He looked forward to feeding and watering horses much more than he looked forward to sitting in a classroom. And dealing with horses was a whole lot better than dealing with school authorities. Horses didn’t yell at you because you weren’t paying attention in class. Or because you had failed to show up for school again.

“I stayed in the barn most of the time,” he said. And it wasn’t only the bad weather that kept him there. “I didn’t want to go outside a lot because the truant officer might be walking around.” Other Half had more than a nodding acquaintance with that guy. If the technology had been available then, the truant officer most likely would have had Other Half’s mom on speed dial.

Despite the wind and heavy rain, The Powers That Be initially expected to keep the agricultural fair open. However, the Exposition’s organizers revised that expectation when: (a) the roof of one of the buildings went airborne, (b) The Westfield River overflowed and began flooding the fairgrounds, and (c) the police “strongly suggested” that people get the heck out of there and take the animals with them.

Exhibitors with livestock trailers loaded up their animals and headed to safer areas. People without transportation rounded up the remaining horses and cattle and slogged through the storm to higher ground. Other Half was drenched by windswept rain as he led a horse named Scarlett O’Hara across an iron bridge and up to the old Agawam racetrack.

That was an experience he would never forget. And, of course, Other Half never imagined then that his job providing fodder for the horses in 1938 would one day provide a different kind of fodder for this blog post, written in between reading online reports about a hurricane named Irene in 2011.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sunday Dinner in the Twilight Zone

A few nights ago, I dreamed I was at an upscale restaurant celebrating something with several people, none of whom I recognized. The place was so upscale that prices weren’t printed on the menu. Not surprising; however, the meal choices weren’t printed on the menu either.

I woke up at 3:22 a.m. wondering where that dream came from.

I think I’ve figured it out.

That afternoon, a woman posting on an online forum mentioned she had grown up in Connecticut. Maybe my dream was a subconscious flashback to a strange restaurant experience during a family trip to that state sometime in the early 1970s.

One Sunday morning after church, my parents and my dad’s Massachusetts cousins, whom I’ll call “Fred” and “Ethel,” made a spur of the moment decision. They decided to just drop in on the Connecticut cousins without first calling to see if the cousins would be home. Three related families lived close to one another. Dad and Fred figured someone would be home. I had nothing planned, so I went along for the ride.

We knew the cousins would offer us a snack. However, before then, we needed something more substantial than coffee and cake or cookies. We intended to stop for dinner at a Friendly’s restaurant along the way. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find one during our two hour drive through what seemed like an endless trail of small towns.

We also passed several Mom and Pop restaurants, but they were closed. Finally, about three or four miles from our destination, Dad spotted a restaurant that looked open. I’ve forgotten the name of the place; I’ll call it the “Country Café.”

The flashing green OPEN sign in the window looked promising, the dining room did not. The lights were dimed, and we were the only customers in the place.

“Where is everyone?” Ethel asked.

“Maybe someone forgot to turn off the sign and lock the door when they closed yesterday,” I said.

We were about to leave when a woman popped out of the kitchen. The presumed hostess seemed surprised to see customers, but she led us to a table before scurrying back to the kitchen.

Fred and Ethel rolled their eyes. “I think she’s cross eyed or something,” Ethel said.

Mom frowned and looked around. “Well, at least the place seems clean.”

I thought the place seemed creepy. “Maybe we should just leave now.”

Dad vetoed my suggestion. He pointed out that this might be our last chance to get something other than coffee and cake or cookies until we were on our way home.

When the hostess returned, Ethel asked to see a menu. The woman frowned, mumbled something I’ve forgotten, and retreated to the kitchen. A few minutes later she reappeared, trailed by a tall, beefy man whom she introduced as the cook. He asked us what we wanted for dinner.

“Well, what do you have?” I asked. After a brief discussion, we decided on ham steak with mashed potatoes and carrots.

Thirty minutes later, our meals were delivered by another person who apparently had been lurking in the kitchen. We had no complaints about the food. However, the hostess hovered around while we ate. I wondered if she thought we were going to walk out with the silverware. Or maybe one of the employees noticed the out of state license plates on our car and thought we might walk out without paying.

That afternoon, we described our Country Café dining experience to several Connecticut relatives. None of them could place the restaurant, even though it was located within a few miles of their homes. I figured, being retired, they might not get around much, but then . . .

Postscript: Now I wonder if the restaurant possibly was a front for some illegal activity. That dining experience was one I didn’t care to repeat. Sad to say, I did, more or less, almost thirty years later on the other side of the country. And, maybe someday, but not too soon, I will blog about the place I often refer to as the Slug Café.

Monday, June 05, 2017

My Fridge Does the Shimmy Shake

Yes, my fridge does the shimmy shake.
There is a logical reason for that.
The floor in my current apartment is very uneven. I have no idea why. Maybe the ground under the building is sinking. And it seems to be getting worse. A few months ago, I only felt the slope of the floor under my feet. Now I can see it.
Based on my current and past experiences, sloping floors are annoying.
Every time the compressor hums, my refrigerator shimmies closer to the stove. When it gets too close, I shove it back where it belongs.
Once upon a time, in the nineties, we lived in an apartment house that had an uneven floor. I figured that floor sloped because the house had been built on a stone foundation in 1886. I was making a lot of beaded jewelry then. I worked on the kitchen table, and every time I dropped a bead, it rolled under the fridge or stove and was lost forever. Well, until we moved out, and someone had to pull out the fridge and stove to clean behind them.
The cleaning crew must have discovered quite a stash back there. I hope someone was able use those beads.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Am I Asking Too Much?

I eat breakfast out a few times a week. Perhaps I’m being unreasonable, or asking too much, but I like to relax while I’m eating.
This is what I look for when choosing a restaurant or café: a clean place with good food, good service, and fair prices. What I do NOT want to see are inciting TV newscasts or programs featuring a couple of shrieking individuals who are (verbally) slugging it out during a rabid political debate with each other.
Fortunately, with a TV it’s always possible to ask the-powers-that-be to switch channels.
Unfortunately, one place I sometimes go to features an “armchair political analyst," a regular customer who thinks he knows everything about everything. He sits at the counter and insists upon letting everyone in the place know everything, too. I have tried tuning him out by sitting far away from him, but it hasn’t worked. Yes, he’s that loud. For the last several weeks, I’ve been able to avoid him by going to breakfast later in the morning.
Is it too much to want to spend 45 minutes eating breakfast in peace without being reminded that the whole world seems to be falling apart?

Monday, October 24, 2016

I Am Not A Crazed Corporate Lackey

I recently read a social media thread in which the original poster (OP) complained about “crazed corporate lackeys” (CCL). According to the OP, in this instance a CCL is a person who refuses to let volunteers for political candidates enter the lackey’s home or property or the property of a condo/retirement community where the lackey resides.

Here’s the other side of the coin, so to speak. And just to let you know, I am not a crazed corporate lackey. I am not paranoid. I am not a hermit. And to shut down potential trolls, I am not a fan of either Trump or Hillary. However, I am a private person who was the target of a crazy individual back in the Late Jurassic Period. Having to put up with a prowler, busted window panes, and strange phone calls was not a pleasant experience.

Although I love getting together with people I know and like, I do not love strangers knocking on my door for any reason, especially strangers from the Nielsen organization (long, weird story). Fortunately, I live in a gated complex, and I also have a sign in the window, written in two languages, that reads Writer/Editor at Work. Please Do Not Disturb. (Unless it is an emergency. Then please DO disturb.)

I respect the right of political volunteers to solicit votes for their candidates. Yes, that is democracy in action, as the OP pointed out. At the same time, please respect my right to choose to NOT respond to the knock on my door. That, too, is democracy in action.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

I Confess That I Once Worked at Walmart

I belong to a Facebook group that is focused on the county where I grew up. Having left that area (for the second and last time) almost twenty years ago, I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on the current lack of job opportunities there. I don’t want to jump in on what is essentially a local debate about the pros and cons of building a new Walmart Supercenter in the largest city and closing the existing smaller store.

I confess that I worked part time at a Walmart store in that county for several years in the 1990s.

I was employed there while I (finally) finished the requirements for my bachelor’s degree. Working as a Walmart fabrics and crafts associate wasn’t my idea of a dream job, but employment opportunities were slim in the college town where I attended classes.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of online complaints about Walmart. Two of the major complaints that got my attention were 1) Walmart jobs pay so little that employees often must apply for public assistance in order to support themselves and their families, and 2) Walmart jobs are “soul killing.”

I agree that low paying, associate level big-box store jobs generally are not great jobs for the long run. However, I think those jobs can be good temporary jobs for students or retirement jobs for people who want or need to keep working after retiring. And retail jobs worked for me as “interim jobs” three times while I looked for a better job.

Apparently, I was one of the more fortunate Walmart associates. Unlike some employees, I didn’t need any sort of public assistance while working there. Nope, not even food stamps. I had the resources to pay for my education, personal expenses, and share of the household expenses without help from anyone else.

I didn’t find the job to be soul killing, probably because I knew I wouldn’t be working at Walmart for almost forever. At that time, my hobby was making handcrafted beaded jewelry, so I was working in the department that was the best fit for me. I also had a rudimentary knowledge of sewing, thanks to a few years in 4-H and six months of home economics in the ninth grade. Although I sometimes had to deal with annoying customers, most of the time I enjoyed helping people with their craft or sewing projects.

I did find the job boring at times, usually on a Monday evening when business was slow. During those times, I tried to sneak over to the bargain fabric tables and reorganize the way too high displays of what seemed like a half-zillion bolts of material. That chore was a never-ending battle and a losing one, especially on the busy weekends. That’s when customers managed to destroy the displays within 15minutes after I had reorganized them.

Coworkers sometimes asked if I intended to apply for a full-time job at Walmart after graduating from college. I was tempted to laugh and say, “Are you crazy, why would I want to do that?” But I was brought up to be nice, so I explained that I was working toward a degree in English with concentrations in writing and literature, and I hoped to find a job where I could use my writing and editing skills.

Trouble was, I knew that job probably didn’t exist in the area where I currently lived.

And I was right. In order to find any job that was even remotely connected to my major, I had to move. I moved back to the Southwest, to a larger city where I had an employment history and where I knew I could find better opportunities.

After working as a document analyst/quality checker at the place I call The Zoo, I was hired as a staff assistant at a nonprofit organization. I was promoted to an editing position fifteen months later. I worked at that organization for almost eight years before I decided to retire from full-time brick and mortar employment.

In hindsight, working at Walmart wasn’t my best job, but it wasn’t my worst job, either.

Would I ever want to work at Walmart again? Honestly? No, but I was grateful to have that job when I needed it. And I met some very nice people there, both customers and co-workers.